The Digital Revolution Has Transformed Journalism—It May be Harder to Change Religion

From a story, “Say Hallelujah and Pass the Remote,” in the Wall Street Journal:

Temple Israel, a reform synagogue in suburban Detroit, undertook a substantial renovation a few years ago. The makeover included a spruced-up atrium and social hall, new display cases, and the installation of two video screens flanking the pulpit.

The screens made their debut in 2017 during Rosh Hashana services with a slideshow designed to underscore the theme of Rabbi Jen Lader’s sermon. The medium-is-the-message topic: the role of technology in enhancing communal experiences. “It felt risky to use the screens as the foundation of a High Holiday service,” Rabbi Lader said. “But the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with people saying they understood things in a completely different way.”

Five years ago the attitude about screens from Temple Israel leadership was “absolutely not,” said Rabbi Lader, who has also used audio clips during her sermons, in one instance a recording by the violinist Joshua Bell. “But I think our world has changed so much in that time. We needed to speak in a relevant way to people who were used to consuming information in a variety of contexts, and we felt strongly that the screens would only enrich their experience here.”. . .

“Every congregation is dealing with the fact that the Word is not as strong by itself as it used to be,” said Cláudio Carvalhaes, an associate professor of worship at New York’s Union Theological Seminary. “And so they feel they have to bring in something else to give force to the sermon.”

The push to add something extra to the mix is born of a fear of seeming stodgy, of missing the boat with millennials, of not keeping up with the Joneses—that is, the megachurches. “It’s, ‘Look at this cool congregation with the enormous screen, and then look at us,’ ” Mr. Carvalhaes said.
I forwarded the WSJ story to a longtime journalism friend, a member of one of Washington’s best-known churches. His reaction:

“Six or so years ago, our then-rector convinced the vestry to install a large video screen above the altar and used it to show close-ups of ongoing services and previously recorded videos.

The screen was removed about a year later–about the same time the rector left.

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